Living With a Majority-Minority Mindset
While race relations have improved over the years, a lack of understanding regarding inequalities still exists.
By Wayne A. Jones
Two recent articles from the online version of Diverse: Issues In Higher Education caught my attention for their titles, content and for several unspoken messages that might be extrapolated. These articles affirm that diversity in higher education is essential to furthering understanding among the races. In my opinion, however, diversity cannot solve all problems.
The first article appeared on June 21. “Study: Americans Use ‘Diversity’ to Cover Up Their True Feelings About Race” provides an interesting discussion about the word “diversity” and its use by Americans to circumvent their true feelings about race.
The question of race has been an issue in this country since the first settlers interacted with American Indians. Centuries later, society still wrestles with many questions regarding race, fairness, equity, power, access, inclusiveness and, yes, even diversity.
While the country has made progress remedying the impact from when discrimination was seen as normal and legal against women, American Indians, Blacks and other minorities, we as a nation have not (and perhaps cannot) totally divorce ourselves from a majority-minority mindset. True, laws have been passed, policies have been altered, restrictions have been removed and some change has occurred. However, the results of the study cited in the article may indicate that we are not being truthful with ourselves and about our real feelings regarding race.
Perhaps the problem is that diversity, like beauty, lies in the eyes of the beholder.
The problem may be that we as a society never defined diversity. The failure to do so may have resulted in the very personal definitions that were obtained during the survey mentioned in the article.
The second article ran June 25, titled, “Study: Whites Just Don’t Understand the Black Experience.” There are numerous troubling findings reported in this article, starting with the opening sentence:
“For Whites, giving up television is a hardship; being Black is not.” The study found that Whites underestimate the costs of being Black.
As much as the United States has made improvements in the conditions,
health, welfare and quality of life of Black Americans, disparities between the races remain. According to Ohio State University researcher Philip Mazzocco, “the costs of being Black in our society are well documented. Blacks have lower incomes, higher levels of poverty and shorter life spans compared to Whites.”
The most troubling aspect of the study is that it points to a lack of appreciation, understanding and concern on the part of the majority population that serious inequalities still exist.
What can be gleaned from the contents of these two interesting articles, especially as they relate to higher education? Higher education is one place that diversity has been promoted for a variety of reasons.
Diversity is seen as a way to make higher education more inclusive, a way to demonstrate our willingness to accept other individuals. It is also seen as a way to make our students more knowledgeable about our global society.
Diversity is still good for our society and for higher education; however, it has its limitations. No amount of diversity can substitute for an actual walk in the life of another individual, especially where there are significant differences related to race and culture. It is here that diversity can present problems related to the lack of communication and understanding in higher education.
Most professors wear many hats. We are teachers, facilitators, role models and advisors to students within and outside of our respective disciplines. When a young Black university student has a problem that is or could be race- or culture-sensitive, it is very difficult for that student to relate to a faculty member who not only does not look like him or her, but who hails from another country or culture. Students who have come to me during such times have not complained of the unwillingness of their advisors to listen and to respond. Their uneasiness has been in the inability of that faculty member to appreciate a particular aspect of how they felt or how they interpreted a particular problem.
This is not to imply that universities should have only Black professors advising Black students. It is to say that consideration must be given to the plight of students in academia who are in disciplines that have not historically had or do not currently have many Black professors.
Higher education continues to be an avenue that can provide an example of what different people can do when they work together to resolve differences in race and culture. However, we must never lose sight of the fact that, in spite of diversity, there are certain types of understandings that can only be appreciated by one who has walked the same path and who looks like you.
— Dr. Wayne A. Jones is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Virginia State University.
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